Community reacts to Berkeley city manager’s reversal of ‘Here There’ resident eviction

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Berkeley City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley reversed a decision to evict the residents of the “Here There” encampment.

The city gave notice of violation of PC 647e, or lodging on public property, to the encampment’s residents Friday. The decision to remove the encampment was initially made by Williams-Ridley, but the decision has since been reversed, according to Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Mayor Jesse Arreguín. Instead, K-rails are to be placed to protect the encampment’s residents from vehicles.

Berkeley activist JP Massar alleged in a Twitter post that Arreguín opposed the removal of the encampment.

“I strongly oppose the removal of this encampment and I am asking the City Manager to stand down,” Arreguín allegedly said in an email to Massar.

Encampment residents were advised in the notice to seek lodging at the city’s shelter at the Veterans Memorial Building and were offered vouchers guaranteeing the availability of shelter beds beginning March 6.

Arreguín and some City Council members have taken the initiative to help preserve the encampment, according to homeless advocate Guy “Mike” Lee.

“I appreciate Mayor Arreguín stepping in and acknowledging the encampment and recognizing the work we’ve done,” Lee said. “I’ve been very critical with the work he’s done regarding the money that’s being spent, but this time, I can’t thank him enough for what he’s done for the encampment, along with the Council members.”

Lee added that Arreguín was concerned with the housing vouchers because residents did not know how to use them.

Councilmember Rigel Robinson was one of the council members who objected to this decision. Councilmember Kate Harrison, however, said while the reversal of the decision is not ideal, it is a reasonable one.

“I made clear my objections to evicting the encampment to our city staff, and urged them to install barriers to protect the encampment from traffic instead,” Robinson said in an email. “There may be long-term conversations about the safety of that location to be had, but needlessly disrupting people’s homes is not a solution and I’m grateful to the many members of the community who have spoken up.”

This eviction notice came after a meeting between the Berkeley chief of police and the Lorin Business Association, according to Street Spirit Editor In Chief Alastair Boone, in a Twitter post.

Residents speculated that the notice was given as a result of an accident in which “a car plowed down a tent,” according to the post.

Yesica Prado, former vice chair of the Homeless Services Panel of Experts, said the encampment deserves a better place for the safety of its residents and that the encampment’s work is an asset to the community.

“The k-rails might help with temporary safety issues, but the camp deserves a better place to thrive than the edge of the curve,” Prado said in an email.

Contact Marc Escobar at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @mescobar_dc.